2009-11-20

Sysinternals Desktops Utility

Probably you have already seen the Sysinternals suite (originally by Russinovitch and Cogswell). Micro$oft bought them out in 2006.

The utilities are still being updated, and expanded. They are incredibly useful.

One that I find especially useful is the Desktops utility. This gives Windows the possibility of multiple virtual desktops a la Unix.


The complete list of the Sysinternals utilities is here: Technet: Sysinternals Utilities.

Favorite Sysinternal utilities

Ones I especially find useful are:

  • Procexp: "Process explorer" to look at running processes – IO, Cpu, DLLs, reg keys, which window goes with which process, who owns a process
  • Tcpview: To look at socket usage in real time
  • Desktops: Create virtual desktops a la Unix
  • PS utilities: Remote cmd-line mgmt of windows
  • Strings: Quickly look for ANSI & Unicode strings in binary executables.
  • Procmon: Monitor file system, registry, process/DLL activity
  • Sdelete: Securely deletes files and directories
  • Zoomit: Zoom parts of the screen / draw on the screen for presentations

The "Desktops" utility

Let's look at one utility in more detail: "Desktops".

This utility allows multiple desktops. The description says that the pgm actually creates extra Windows Desktop objects. This approach has its own challenges for the user but helps solve a lot of the compatibility problems created by other approaches.

This utility can be run as an ordinary user.

Desktops: Some gotchas


Here are some things to watch out for:
  • Tray applications are not carried over to other desktops. However desktop shortcuts are carried over.
  • Only way to exit Desktops is to logoff.
  • When you exit the last pgm on a secondary desktop, sometimes you lose the start pgm button / task bar. Just have a blank desktop.
  • If running an expanded desktop across 2 monitors, then will need lots of memory if you also try to run multiple desktops - the PC can be slow.
  • Sometimes programs can have subtle interactions with the desktop. For instance, timeEdition (a simple freeware time recording utility) can be run on any desktop. But it keeps on recording if you are on another desktop. It will not shut off automatically.

Desktop: Pgms that need to run on the primary desktop

Here are some programs that seem to need to run on the primary desktop because of their interaction with the Windows GUI:
  • SnagIT
  • VMWare needs to run on primary desktop. Otherwise screen integration doesn't work at all. Screen is black.
  • Firefox should be started on 1st desktop for interfacing with Google Desktop, etc. If you start do it on another desktop + then stop it, process will remain running in limbo and has to be killed via TaskMgr before starting it on the other desktop.
  • Cisco Vpn client seems to want to be on the 1st desktop so that its GUI will work correctly.

Desktop: Pgms that can run on another desktop 

The following programs can run successfully on another desktop:
  • Outlook
  • Jedit
  • OneNote (but you won't see the tray icon to be able to start it with a click)
  •  Word can run on a secondary desktop. But this is as long as Word is not interfacing with the browser (eg if you want to publish a blog entry), or SnagIT to record a screen capture in a Word document.
  •  Desktops provides an easy way to zip in and out of a full-screen webex presentation. Run the webex on the primary desktop. Run what you want to work on on another secondary desktop. Use the "Desktops" hotkeys to flip back and forth.

Desktop: and Win7? (2009-11-24 add)

The above notes were made based on experiences with Vista. On Win7 with the new Aero function (Peek, Snap, and friends), things change:
  • Had some problems with multiple Word documents on the secondary desktop.
  • Some of the new Aero function only works on the primary desktop.
  • Looks like YMMV.


NetMeter (2009-11-24 update)

Just discovered NetMeter from Hoo Technologies. (See Hoo Technologies: NetMeter)


Seems to do everything Rokario does, but better.


Like especially their "click-through" mode that essentially makes the monitor output part of the desktop. Also can ask for individual graphs of different NICs / interfaces.


In all fairness, should say that NetMeter is shareware and I looked at the Rokario freeware version. (They also have a paid version). But still like NetMeter better.

    Rokario Bandwidth Monitor

    One thing that the Sysinternals Utilities does not seem to do is to provide a way to log total BandWidth usage.

    I found a small freeware utility to do this: Rokario Bandwidth Monitor Lite. Here is the web site: http://www.rokario.com/

    There is a paid version as well but I found that the free version of the software does the job adequately.

    The software is a bit rough around the edges. For instance, when I tried to update the download dialogue wanted to do a direct install, and didn't seem to offer any "save" option. Hmm. Wonder what else was being installed at the same time.

    The free version has no log "cleanup" function. You either delete everything or keep everything.


    On the up side, the utility gives a complete list of everything that could possibly do network IO on the PC, including Bluetooth. By default, it logs all activity so that you have close tabs on what is happening. Logging can be turned off for individual NICs.

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